Gosport Independent Panel

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:48 pm on 21st November 2018.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 1:48 pm, 21st November 2018

I appreciate the tone of the hon. Gentleman, who rightly focuses on the need to ensure that this never happens again, and I join him in thanking Bishop James Jones for his work on this and other inquiries. It was quite brilliant empathetic work. I also thank Norman Lamb, for whom I have an awful lot of respect.

The core of the questions the hon. Gentleman raised, about the need to ensure that whistleblowers are listened to and that people are heard in the NHS, comes down to culture change. A whole series of policies underpins that culture change, and I will come to them, but ultimately it comes down to this: errors happen in medicine—it is a high-risk business—but what matters is behaviour, that everything is done to minimise errors and, when they are made, to learn from them, rather than try to cover them up. The culture change needs to be driven across the NHS. It has changed and improved in many areas, but there is still much more to do.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether amendments would be tabled to the Health Service Safety Investigations Bill or in separate legislation on whistleblowers. We are looking at both options. Partly it comes down to the technicalities of scope and the exact distinction and definition of the amendments, but I look forward to working with him on that legislation.

The hon. Gentleman asked why gagging clauses are still in use. I may well ask the very same question. They were deemed unacceptable by my predecessor—I join in the tributes to him—who did so much on this agenda. Gagging clauses have been unacceptable in the NHS since 2013. Trusts, which are independent, can legally use them, but I find them unacceptable, and I will do what it takes to stamp them out.

The hon. Gentleman said that too many people in the NHS feel unable to speak up. To ensure a route for this, we now have, in every single NHS trust, an individual separate from line management to whom staff can go to raise concerns. This is part of the culture change, but it is not the whole. Line management itself in every hospital should welcome challenge and concerns, because that is the way to improve practice. Challenges and concerns that are raised with managers should be deemed an opportunity to improve the service offered to patients, rather than a problem to be managed.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned medication errors. Of course, this was not a case of medication error—it would have been far less bad had it been; it was a case of active mis-medication that led to deaths. Medication errors are an important issue, however, and we are bringing in e-prescribing across the board to allow for much more accurate measurement, audit and analysis of medication.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman said that pressures often come from staff shortages. Again, that was emphatically not the concern here, and we absolutely must not muddle up the behaviour here with the issue of staff shortages. Nevertheless, I acknowledge the need for more staff in the NHS. Indeed, we are putting £20 billion into it over the next five years to make sure we have the people we need to deliver the NHS that everyone wants.